This month makes 120 years since the birth of Dame Caroline Haslett. Dame Haslett was born on 17th August 1895 in West Sussex. The daughter of a railway signal fitter/activist, Haslett had an interest in engineering from a young age. After leaving school, she worked at the Cochran Boiler Company as a junior clerk, becoming both a manager of the office and then during the war acquiring practical engineering skills in the boiler works.
In 1918, she joined the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) as a secretary, rising to become their president in 1941 and editing their journal. After receiving a paper by a Mrs Matthews on the need to “popularize the domestic use of electricity”, Haslett joined with her to form the Electrical Association for Women (EAW). They believed that electrical engineering could be used to free women from the drudgery of housework – in fact their slogan was “emancipation from drudgery”. They produced lots of material in order to encourage women to embrace electrical technology and knowledge – in the hope that it would free them up from chores so that they would have time for other pursuits.
“Way is being made by electricity for a higher order of women – women set free from drudgery, who have time for reflection; for self-respect. We are coming to an Age when the spiritual and higher state of life will have freer development, and this is only possible when women are liberated from soul-destroying drudgery…I want her to have leisure to acquaint herself more profoundly with the topics of the day”
Haslett was very adept at drumming up support for the EAW, and had close links with important figures in the electrical industry and trades union movement. They expanded to have branches in Glasgow, Birmingham and Manchester. Haslett secured funding from the Central Electricity Board to run a large programme to educate women on the use of electricity in the home. Eventually the EAW offered an electrical housecraft certificate – which became a recognized qualification by the 1940s. It included study on installing meters, fuses, refrigeration and electricity generation to name but a few.
Haslett was a well-respected expert in her field, and in 1932 was appointed as chair of the Home Safety Committee. She became their first female vice president in 1937. She was also the only female member of the Council of the British Institute of Management, and the first female chairman of the British Electrical Development Association.
In WWII, she was the only female member of the IET committee examining electrical installation standards in post war Britain. This work became what we know now as BS 1363.
She received her CBE in 1931, and was made a Dame in 1947. From 1950 to her death in 1957, we was Justice of the Peace for the County of London. She died in January 1957.
The IET holds both the archive collections of Dame Haslett, the EAW, and WES.